One Southwest Washington lawmaker called the current effort to revive talks of replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River a “small step forward” toward easing the congestion between Portland and Vancouver.
On Tuesday, in a Senate Transportation Committee hearing in Olympia, it became more of a crawl.
The bill was downgraded to declare the I-5 Bridge something closer to “a project of great public importance,” according to Sen. Annette Cleveland.
An earlier version would have declared it a project of statewide significance, which could have helped expedite the permitting process. The current measure postpones that declaration, but it carves out room for lawmakers to make it in the future.
The Southwest Washington delegation, which negotiated for months over each word in the original bill, said the measure still has plenty of merit.
“I don’t feel the bill is weakened even a tiny bit because of this,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center. “It doesn’t change our mandate, which is to have a full process to engage with the public to develop the plan, not only for this bridge but for other crossings over the river.”
Part of the goal of designating the bridge a project of statewide significance was to quell a growing movement to focus on a third east or west county bridge before addressing the aging I-5 crossing.
Cleveland, a fierce proponent of the defunct Columbia River Crossing project, said Senate Bill 5608 should still be considered progress.
The measure calls for an inventory and cataloguing of all the previous work done on the Columbia River Crossing. It would create a legislative action committee, made up of key stakeholders and department of transportation employees in Oregon and Washington.
The bill carves out $350,000 for the necessary work and mandates an inventory report from the Washington State Department of Transportation back to the Legislature by Dec. 1. It continues to keep any talk of mass transit vague.
The delegation was told it would be difficult to declare the project one of statewide significance, because technically there is no current project. But it carves out room to do so in the future.
“I still feel, for our community, it sends a message that there’s consensus. The (I-5 Bridge) is the first priority,” Cleveland said.
And while this bill calls for an examination of all the crossings over the Columbia, it continues to prioritize the I-5 Bridge.
Washington legislators are hoping this is the session they can send a message not only to the local community, but also to Oregon legislators to prove they can move forward on a project.
Oregon legislators are keeping an eye on Olympia.
“I think it’s safe to say Oregon legislators will be watching closely to see if there is a shift in Washington — it’s still one of the most important transportation infrastructure project needs in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest,” said Lindsey O’Brien, a spokeswoman for Oregon’s House Speaker Tina Kotek, who was a proponent of the Columbia River Crossing.